WORDS CHARLOTTE-ROSIE CREIGHTON - PHOTOGRAPHY LIZA MOLNAR
Walthamstow-born singer-songwriter Olivia Dean is one polished artist. She began nurturing her gifts at a young age and like so many talented singers, attended the prestigious Brits school, where she worked on her songwriting craft.
Olivia Dean writes and sings about deeply relatable topics and has firmly established herself as a bit of a go-to girl for affairs of the heart. Her songs are relatable to anyone who has loved and lost. She writes about relationships with such an impressive maturity; hindsight is something most of us wish we had when processing a breakup and it’s something Olivia Dean has buckets full of. Every lyric is deeply personal and written about her own emotions and experiences, each song offers a plethora of relief to those suffering from various levels of heartache, all written from the female perspective, of course! Her new record ‘The Hardest Part’ has a vintage soulful vibe with a nod to classic Motown, a genre that Dean loves. This isn’t your average breakup song, it’s a breakup song with a positive and witty spin on in it alongside Amy Winehouse style lyrical feels.
Like most of us, Olivia Dean has taken the last few months off which she has spent focusing on yoga, reading and finishing projects. She also wanted to bring some much-needed joy back into communities, which is where the idea for this tour was born. Originally entertaining people via Instagram live and various other social media platforms, this soon progressed to Olivia using her bicycle to travel to people’s homes to perform. She has since upgraded to a very bright yellow touring lorry that has been converted into a portable stage, allowing her to perform and bring joy to people up and down the country. When speaking about this tour Olivia says, ‘I want everyone to be involved, I want other artists to come and play on it, I want to do some nights. I want it to be a thing that everyone can enjoy and get stuck into’.
We had the pleasure of catching up with Olivia at her first performance on her ‘From Me To You’ tour in association with Clarks at Grow, Tottenham, where we discussed how the last few months have been for her, her creative process, her new single and more.
Charlotte-Rosie Creighton: How are you doing?
Olivia Dean: I’m doing very well, thank you. We are here at Grow Tottenham for my first gig on the ‘From Me To You’ tour, I’m excited.
CC: Thank you for performing today, it’s so nice to be at a live event.
OD: I know! I’ve missed live music so much, not just playing but watching other people perform. And seeing people enjoying themselves, having a drink at a bar, talking! It feels really special, it feels like I can’t believe its happening really, the truck is super overwhelming. When I look at it I’m like, ‘oh my god its got my name on it’.
CC: The truck is stunning, how did you come up with the idea for that?
OD: Well it was during lockdown and I was just talking to my manager saying how much I missed performing and doing gigs, so we were discussing what we could do. I said, ‘what if I just get on my bike (because all of lockdown I’ve just been cycling around) get on my Instagram and ask who wants a song, and go and serenade people?' Then we had a massive brainstorm and decided to get a lorry and paint it yellow, and then it happened!
CC: That’s such a nice idea.
OD: We've planning it for the last three months and now its all coming to fruition, it’s mental!
CC: I bet it’s bringing a lot of joy to people.
OD: That is literally the only reason I wanted to do it! I wanted it to be bright yellow, with flower power, and just bring some live music and good times because I think everyone really needs it.
CC: It’s been dark hasn’t it, how have you found lockdown?
OD: It has been really dark. My lockdown has been okay, I’ve been by myself which has been hard. I hadn't lived by myself before so it was interesting...The first month I was like ‘whoo I love myself, I love my own company’ and the second month, I was like, okay! Every morning you wake up and think ‘oh this again’. But it was cool, I did loads of yoga and read a lot. I actually took a break from writing because I was writing all the time before lockdown and I thought now is the time to listen to music, podcasts and finish stuff, I’m very bad at finishing things! I am the sort of person who starts loads of ideas and then doesn’t finish them. So I finished my EP and was planning this. So as shit as lockdown was, I feel quite grateful, I got a lot of stuff done.
CC: I guess it must be difficult to write at the moment because there’s so much sadness and unrest in the world that it can be so overwhelming…
OD: That’s the thing, I didn’t want to write a song like ‘oh lockdown is so rubbish, or I’m so lonely’ because I think everyone knows that. So this sort of felt like a more fun project to really get my teeth stuck into.
CC: That’s so lovely, there’s been a few outdoor gigs but not many.
OD: No, not really. There’s been outdoor cinemas and stuff but I don’t know if anyone else is doing this right now. I want everyone to be involved, I want other artists to come and play on it, I want to do some nights. I want it to be a thing that everyone can enjoy and get stuck into. I just need to reach out to some people and see who’s up for it.
CC: So how are you feeling about performing in front of everyone today?
OD: Eeek! I am a bit nervous, it’s been a long time. I don’t normally get nervous performing because I generally do love it. I love singing, I know that sounds gross but... (both laugh).
CC: It’s not gross you’re very good at it.
OD: But today I do feel a bit nervous because its friends and family and no one has heard live music in a while but I think once I get the first song done, I’ll relax into it. We’re going to Cornwall next weekend and I’ve never been there, I don’t think anyone knows who I am down there so there’s no stress, you know what I mean?
CC: Could you tell me a little bit about other artists who inspire you and why?
OD: Mmm, good question. There’s so many, but growing up I loved Amy Winehouse and Aretha Franklin and the whole Motown era- my new music video is inspired by that. That was me growing up but then I also love Solange, she’s classy, she’s elegant, she’s flawless. Shes expensive you know what I mean?
CC: I hear you, you don’t want to say her name, she’s that good.
OD: She's that good! But I like songwriters, I love Carol King, I am a very lyrical person. I love Paul Simon, Gracetown is one of my favourite albums of all time.
CC: 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover is one of my favourite ever songs because there really are 50 ways…
OD: Oh! Banger! It's great advice, there are 50 ways. I love Joni Mitchelle and I love Jeff Buckley too, I just love all different types of things. I’m not super genre-specific, just like good lyrics and honesty, that’s what really does it for me.
CC: I was listening to your track The Hardest Part, which is beautiful and really resonated with me. You’ve perfectly captured that feeling. Could you tell me a little bit about what inspired you and what the writing process was like on this track?
OD: Thank you. So I went on my first ever writing trip to Copenhagen, I’d never been there before. And I went because the person I wrote Reason to Stay with had just moved there and he was like come over and let’s write some music. I was like great! I’d just literally ended a relationship that I was in for quite a long time and it really felt like the end of a chapter of my life, and the start of another one. You know when you’re like, ‘I really have to move on now, there’s really no going back, so I need to pick myself up and make this work’. I wanted to write a song, a breakup song that wasn’t negative and something that just said, 'we’re different people now and that’s okay, and I’m not going to remember it bitterly but I’m not that same person who you fell in love with'. And that’s it.
CC: That is so important, it’s nice to normalise that not all breakups are negative. It is a process like a bereavement process, isn’t it?
OD: Exactly! Exactly! And that’s why I just feel like, without sounding cliche and quoting my own lyrics, ‘it is the hardest part’ when you realise this isn’t going to work anymore, we’re different people. I just needed to write a song for myself to get myself through it. I was like ‘babe you need something that you can sing going forward that is like you got this, keep going’!
CC: I guess when you do write breakup songs, and you have to perform them over and over again, that could catapult you back into a dark place. Do you have any songs that make you feel like that?
OD: Yeah, it’s hard, I have songs that I wrote at the beginning of the relationship which sometimes feels a bit funny to sing but I think it’s nice and I think of them fondly. I may not feel those things about that person anymore but I will feel them again in my life going forward. Not even romantically, I feel that love for my friends in my life, so I just have to change that mindset about what I’m singing about when I perform it.
CC: How has it been being a female artist in a very male-dominated industry?
OD: I feel like I’ve only been in the industry for a second so I’m sort of fresh to it all. But I’ve got a really good team around me; I have a lot of females on my team. All the directors I’ve worked with so far have been female and that’s something I’m going to try and keep doing going forward. It’s really important to me. Obviously, my music is for everyone but it does come from a very female perspective and so I want someone who is making the visual for it to really get that. And my manager is a female and me and her are a dream team. I like men but I have some very good female energy around me so I’m very lucky. I don’t feel super dominated by men, I don’t think I’ll allow myself to be. I’m pretty strong-headed, I get that from my mum so if I do come across anything I think 'I've got this, I will be saying something'. We’ve got a long way to go but things are changing.
CC: What was the most surprising thing about making music that you didn’t expect before getting into the industry?
OD: I think maybe when I was younger and a bit naive. I didn’t realise how many people it takes to make something happen, whether that is music, or a video, or getting a song out. It does take a big team of people but that’s wicked. I’m not precious about collaborating with people, I love writers and different creative people. I just didn’t realise how many people it took to create a single. I thought Amy [Winehouse] just popped up!
CC: And finally what's your favourite f word?
OD: I won’t go for the obvious one.
*Asks manager Emily*
Emily: ‘Fantastic, you say that a lot’.
OD: Ok, fantastic! I really do love an adjective.
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